DETROIT (AP) — Ed Stefanski needed only about a minute in his conference call before he said the word the Detroit Pistons have seemingly avoided for so long.
“We were always discussing that we were going to have to probably rebuild here,” said Stefanski, a team executive. “We’re in the middle of the pack. To me, that’s not the place that we want to be in and where fans want to be in.”
The Pistons have been hesitant to rebuild, but Stefanski said Friday that injuries and the team’s performance made it the best option. Detroit traded Andre Drummond on Thursday to Cleveland, a team in the Pistons’ own division. The return wasn’t much. In exchange for a two-time All-Star center, Detroit received Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round draft pick in 2023.
It’s hard to view that as anything other than an attempt to remove a high-priced player from the roster and break up the core of a team that hasn’t performed as hoped. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008. Drummond has put up big numbers, but the team has only managed two postseason appearances with him and was swept in the first round both times.
The Pistons gave their core of Drummond, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson another shot this year — and they even added Derrick Rose in the offseason — but injuries to Griffin, Jackson and other players left Detroit with an uphill climb to make the playoffs.
“We are looking to rebuild,” Stefanski said, using that word again. “What the future holds is going to be interesting. We haven’t had the luxury the last two seasons of having any real cap flexibility. Now we have that. How do we use it? How do we use it wisely?”
Sometimes, rebuilding can mean a full teardown and an attempt to stockpile draft picks. That hasn’t happened in Detroit to this point. Other players with some value like Rose and Luke Kennard remained with the Pistons. Griffin is still around with his big contract.
Detroit can hope for improvement from some young players already with the organization and use its cap space to rebuild around Griffin.
“Do you use it on players? Do you use it on collecting assets to get players in trades? Having the flexibility, the obvious answer is, it’s great to have it, and now let’s use it wisely and make the right choices,” Stefanski said. “And the draft is important to us too. We have our draft pick, and we have all our No. 1 picks going forward.”
Detroit has given some young players opportunity. Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and rookie Sekou Doumbouya have shown some promise. Christian Wood has looked like a potential fan favorite at times with his energy around the basket.
“We like Christian. He’s worked well,” Stefanski said. “As the coach has said, sometimes he has some issues on maybe not wearing a watch and knowing what time it is to get some places, but he’s done a nice job on the floor. I think he’s coming around.”
Another concern following the trade was Drummond’s reaction. He posted messages on Twitter saying there are “no friends or loyalty” in the NBA.
“I’ve given my heart and soul to the Pistons, and to have this happen with no heads up makes me realize even more that this is just a business!” he wrote.
A team trying to attract players can ill-afford a reputation for disloyalty. Stefanski pushed back against that.
“Our first thought was, when we decided to make the move, was that we would get to Andre and his agent ASAP, and that’s what we did, so that no one could tweet it out or announce it without the two people knowing about it,” Stefanski said. “I thought we handled it well on our end.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports